China Edits Gay Fans, Gaga, and More Out of 'Friends' Reunion Special

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday May 28, 2021

"Friends" has legions of fans in China — fans who were disappointed with the censors made to the much-anticipated "Reunion" special, which cut out any mention of gay fans and the sight of Joey in his underwear. Others, however, applauded those edits, according to Variety, who reports about six minutes went missing from the special.

The broadcasters in China that carried HBO Max's special presentation, titled "Friends: The Reunion," "had entirely cut appearances by musicians BTS, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, as well as other scenes," the outlet indicates.

The Hollywood Reporter also noted that "Lady Gaga's widely praised rendition of 'Smelly Cat' with Lisa Kudrow's Phoebe was trimmed back to just a few seconds to excise the pop star from the bit entirely," going on to explain that "Gaga has been banned in China ever since she met with the Dalai Lama — a dangerous separatist in Beijing's view — back in 2016."

Justin Bieber "accidentally infuriated Chinese fans in 2014 when he posted on Instagram about a visit he made to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, not knowing that the religious site is a source of international controversy because the souls of Japanese WWII war criminals have been interred there," the outlet mentioned. With that, a moment that the American audience got to see — "Bieber's strut down a catwalk to show off a beloved potato costume from the show," as Variety described it — was also left out of the Chinese broadcast.

"Most repressive was the Chinese streamers' handling of the brief moments in the Friends reunion that reference or celebrate LGBTQ fans of the show," shared The Hollywood Reporter.

One gay German fan's commentary — "I was a gay man who wanted to have hair like Jennifer Aniston, so you can imagine how lonely I sometimes felt" — was also axed, recounted Variety.

Two of the three major Chinese streaming platforms that carried the special did leave a few tasty moments untouched that the third, Youku, razored out, including one "in which a woman pulls her girlfriend on camera. 'Like every Chandler, I found my Monica,' she says," the outlet reported.

"Youku also cut out shots of a separate scene in which LeBlanc's Joey opens his bathrobe to reveal himself in his skivvies with a picture of Ross stuck to the front of his underwear," Variety added.

"Chinese platforms are responsible for executing their own censorship in-house," the outlet clarified, adding that when it comes to excising content, they "prefer to overshoot than face potential repercussions for letting content deemed politically sensitive slip through the cracks."

Even so, Variety noted there were those who "expressed support for the censorship, stating that those who have slandered China should indeed be banned."

But diehard fans didn't let official censorship harsh their "Friends" buzz, as "many viewers have downloaded pirated copies of the HBO Max version to bypass local streamers entirely," according to Variety. "Others have turned to unauthorized, uncensored versions posted elsewhere, like the Bilibili platform."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.